Let's be honest, we all want a nice, perky, and strong backside. But achieving that is not as easy as it seems.
Sure, you can do a bunch of squats and lunges and hope for the best, but if you want to see real results, you need to incorporate glute activation exercises at the start of your routine to benefit the most when we move on to our compound exercises.
In this article, we'll discuss what glute activation is, why it's important, and the best exercises to get those glutes firing. Let's get to it!
Glute activation refers to performing exercises that warm up and prepare the glutes for intense exercises. These exercises are designed to ‘Wake-up’ the glutes and get them fired in preparation for our glute-building exercises.
The glutes are made up of three muscles: the gluteus maximus, medius and minimus . When these muscles are weak or inhibited, it can lead to several issues such as lower back pain, poor posture and even hip pain. Glute activation exercises are designed to be performed before heavy lifting so that the glutes are ready to handle the loads placed on them.
Many people don't understand the importance of glute activation exercises, which is why they often neglect them. But incorporating these exercises into your workout routine can help you improve your performance during other exercises and even prevent injuries.
Examples of glute activation exercises include bridges, clamshells, lateral band walks, donkey kicks. These exercises can be incorporated into a warm-up routine or as part of a larger workout program to help improve glute strength and activation. We'll discuss each of these exercises in more detail later.
Why is Glute Activation Important?
Due to a sedentary lifestyle or sitting for prolonged periods, many people have weak glutes that are unable to effectively fire during activities that require more glute strength and muscle recruitment. This can lead to other muscle groups taking over and compensating, which can cause pain and injury .
Additionally, weak glutes can also lead to poor posture, which can worsen back pain or lead to other issues. Therefore, to avoid these issues and prevent injuries, we need to activate the glutes and get them firing before exercises such as squats, hip thrusts, deadlifts, etc.
When the glutes are activated and firing correctly, we can then move on to more challenging exercises with more confidence, knowing that our lower body is ready to perform the work needed.
Furthermore, the glutes are the biggest and most powerful muscles in the body, so they play an important role when it comes to sports performance. For this reason, athletes must ensure that their glutes are properly activated and strengthened to improve performance.
How Do You Activate Your Glutes?
Activating your glutes is not as simple as performing a few squats or lunges. To effectively activate the glutes, we need to incorporate exercises that activate all three of the glutes – the glute maximus, medius and minimus.
Each of these muscles has its own unique role to play in helping you to move efficiently and effectively.
The gluteus maximus is the largest of the three glute muscles and is responsible for hip extension. This muscle is involved in movements such as walking, running, and climbing stairs.
The gluteus medius is located on the side of the hip and is responsible for hip abduction and external rotation. This muscle is particularly important for stabilizing the pelvis during activities such as walking, running, and jumping.
The gluteus minimus is located underneath the gluteus medius and is also involved in hip abduction and medial rotation. It works together with the gluteus medius to stabilize the pelvis during movement.
To activate the glutes, we need to replicate these three roles. This means performing exercises that involve hip extension, abduction, and external rotation.
We recommend performing a 5-10 minute glute activation routine before every lower body workout. That way we can be sure that the glutes are prepped and that we avoid any unwanted injuries.
Below, we’ll discuss some of the most effective glute activation exercises that you can incorporate into your routine.
Fun tip: When you're doing these exercises, think about your glutes! That might sound silly, but by focusing your mind on the muscle you're trying to activate, you can improve your mind-muscle connection and get better results.
As the maximas is the biggest muscle in the glutes, it makes sense to spend the most time activating this muscle. The first 5 exercises focus on the gluteus maximas, with the next 4 exercises targeting the gluteus medius and minimus.
1. Donkey Kicks (With Bands)
This exercise targets the glute maximus and helps to activate the muscle before you do any other exercises. The bands help add resistance to the exercise, allowing you to really feel the mind-muscle connection.
How to Do Donkey Kicks (With Bands):
Place a resistance band around your thighs just above your knees.
Get on all fours, keeping your hips in line with your knees and maintaining a neutral spine
One leg at a time, move your foot up towards the ceiling keeping a slightly flexed knee position
Once you feel the glutes firing, and tension in the resistance band, slowly lower the foot to the starting position
Perform the exercise 10-15 times on one leg before switching to the other leg
2. Standing Glute Kickback (With Band)
This is another glute activation exercise that targets the glute maximus.
How to Do Standing Glute Kickback (With Band):
Stand with your feet hip-width apart to perform this exercise, and place a resistance band around your ankles.
Lift your left foot off of the floor while keeping the right foot firmly planted in position.
Kick back your left leg back so that it moves behind your body.
To ensure that you are targeting the glutes, squeeze your glutes as you kick back and maintain a slight bent in the knee throughout the entire exercise.
Return your leg to the starting position while inhaling, and make sure not to rest your foot on the floor as you return to the starting position.
3. Glute Bridge (With Band)
This is also an effective glute activation exercise focusing on the glute maximus.
How to Do Glute Bridge(With Band):
Lie down on a mat with your knees bent and feet flat.
Place a resistance band loop around your lower thighs just above your knees.
Ensure that your feet are hip-width apart and your spine is in a neutral position. Keep your arms by your side
Lift your hips off the floor by pushing your heels into the mat and tensing your glutes while you exhale. Your body should form a straight line from your chin to your knees, resting on your shoulders.
To return to the starting position, breathe in and lower your pelvis.
Repeat for the desired number of reps.
To make the exercise more difficult, place you feet on a platform as shown in the above example
4. Lying Kickback (With Band)
This glute activation exercise is similar to the donkey kick. However, you perform it in a lying position. Again, this activation is focusing on glute maximas activation.
How to Do Lying Kickback (With Band):
Lie on your stomach with a resistance band around your ankles.
Kick one leg back while keeping the opposite leg close to the ground
Squeeze your glutes as you kick back, and maintain a slight bend in the knee throughout the entire exercise.
Return your leg to the starting position
Either continue performing all reps on one leg and then swap. Or perform alternate reps with each leg
5. Reverse Hyperextension
Not an exercise you may have come across, but the reverse hyperextension is a great exercise to activate the glutes. It’s also a great exercise you can incorporate into your routine as one of your working sets.
Keep your feet together and raise your legs backwards behind your body
Ensure to keep your legs together as you lift them. Squeeze your glutes at the top of the movement.
Lower your legs and hips to the ground/bench and return to the starting position
Repeat this exercise 10-15 times for great glute activation
6. Seated Abduction (With Band)
Here we have the first activation that focuses primarily on the gluteus medius. The primary role of the medius is glute abduction – which is the very movement of this activation exercise.
How to Do Seated Abduction (With Band):
Sit on a surface in a normal seated position (hips and knees at roughly a 90degree angle)
Place a resistance band around the top of your thighs just above your knees.
Moving your feet and knees simultaneously, move both legs out towards the side so that you feel tension on the resistance band
Squeezing the glutes, hold the position for a second and then slowly return to the starting position
Repeat this exercise 10-15 times for maximum benefit.
7. Banded Side Walk
Focusing on the medius and minums, the banded sidewalk is a great exercise to activate the upper glutes.
How to Do Banded Sidewalk:
Loop a resistance band around your legs and place it just above your knees.
Ensure your spine is in a neutral position and take and adopt a shoulder-width stance
Walk sideways while maintaining tension on the band and pointing your feet forward.
Stay in control of the movement as you move, and don't let the band pull your legs.
Return to the starting position while inhaling, and repeat this exercise 8-12 reps in each direction.
8. Clam Shells (With Band)
Similar to the seated abduction, but with a slight twist.
How to Do Clam Shells (With Band):
Lie on your right side either on the floor or on a bench
Place a resistance band just above your knees and keep your right arm extended along the floor and your head resting on the arm.
Keeping both feet together, bend at the knees and bring the knees slightly closer to the torso.
Lift your left knee towards the ceiling whilst keeping the feet together.
Once you feel the tension in the band, and feel the glutes working – hold the position and then slowly return to the starting position.
Repeat this for ten reps on one side, then switch to the other and repeat for another ten reps.
9. Fire Hydrant
Focusing on activating the glute medius and minimus, the fire hydrant is an effective exercise to prime the glutes ready for heavy workouts.
How to Do Fire Hydrant:
Start on all fours with your hands slightly below your shoulders and your knees under your hips.
Place the resistance band just above your knees
Lift one leg to the side, keeping it bent at a 90-degree angle and exhale as you lift
Lift your leg until you feel the glutes firing and tension in the resistance band.
Slowly return to the starting position.
Perform 10-15 reps on one side and then swap legs.
Incorporating glute activation exercises into your workout routine can help you achieve better results, reduce the risk of injuries, and improve your overall health and fitness.
The reason we perform our favourite glute-based exercises is that we want to grow and strengthen the glutes. Failure to activate the glutes before our heavy lifting could see other surrounding muscles such as the quads and hamstrings compensating and taking the load away from the glutes.
A complete activation routine can minimalise this and ensure the glutes are ready to handle the load from the heavy exercises. If the glutes can take the brunt of the load then we’re going to experience more growth in this region.
Shepherd, B. (2022, August 18). Glute muscles: What they are and how to make them stronger. livescience.com. https://www.livescience.com/glute-muscles
Buckthorpe, M. (2019, July 1). ASSESSING AND TREATING GLUTEUS MAXIMUS WEAKNESS – A CLINICAL COMMENTARY. PubMed Central (PMC). https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6670060/